New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara pushes the limits to stay a step ahead

You probably have seen the video by now.

There’s Alvin Kamara, balancing on a BOSU ball, catching HECOstix that his trainer tosses. Actually, that’s understating. He’s catching them by the color and designated hand that the his trainer (Dr. Sharif Tabbah of Athletix Rehab and Recovery in Miami) instructs, while balancing on the ball.

All the while, the New Orleans Saints running back – the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 and arguably its most versatile back – very closely resembles a man who’s standing on a perfectly even floor, rather than a ball that could betray him at the slightest wrong twitch.

“It’s just a gradual progression of these workouts,” Kamara said Wednesday, as he sat at his locker following the Saints’ second minicamp practice. The third, and final, practice will be Thursday before players and staff break until training camp in late July.

“We started on the BOSU last year,” he said. “From last year, just standing on a BOSU to this year, standing on a BOSU catching those sticks with the color, just working hand-eye coordination. And just a new challenge on that BOSU, the balance aspect of it. He’s always trying to find something to stump me, but I get him.

“It’s tough. A lot of people ask me, ‘Man, you’re just hopping up there?’ I’m like, the first time I did this was a year ago at this time. I didn’t just hop up on a ball and start catching it. There’s a lot of work that goes into that.”

There’s a ton of work that goes into staying ahead of the pack, on the cutting edge, remaining the future in a game that constantly is evolving.

Kamara, who was named All-Pro after his rookie season, appears to have a firm grasp on how to handle what’s coming next, and how to conquer it.

He had 728 yards and eight touchdowns on 120 carries, and 81 catches for 826 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie (plus a kickoff return for a touchdown, totaling a Saints rookie-record 14 scores), then followed with 883 yards and 14 touchdowns on 194 carries, and 81 catches for 709 yards and four touchdowns in his second season. He established a franchise single-season record (rushing touchdowns) and tied another (total touchdowns).

In part, credit the BOSU and HECOstix. Or pulling a Jeep while doing the farmer’s walk exercise.

“I haven’t done that again,” Kamara said of the Jeep-pulling.

Instead, he’s moved on to different challenges in order to stay a step (or four) ahead.

“Training is a big part of it, the way I train in the offseason,” he said. “What you put in your body, you’ll get back. I like to focus on the training aspect of my offseason. It’s OTAs and minicamp right now, but I’m still focused on my strength. That’s a big thing right now that a lot of guys tend to lose focus on.”

The Saints need a focused and prepared Kamara. This year, his third, he truly has become the veteran Saint in New Orleans’ running backs room. Latavius Murray was a free agent addition this offseason, and Dwayne Washington had carries in four games for the Saints last season, when he totaled 154 yards on 27 carries.

Mark Ingram, Kamara’s running mate in the backfield for his first two seasons, now is a Baltimore Raven.

“I kind of liken it to, you’re in college,” Saints running backs coach Joel Thomas said. “You’re a freshman, you come in and you’ve got a veteran that’s been in there and that veteran has graduated. And now, all of a sudden, you’re in your third year, your junior year, and now it’s kind of your time to go ahead and be the leader of the room.

“Just from an understanding of the game, the comment was made, ‘Why can’t he be the Drew Brees of running backs?’ Because I feel like he’s that intelligent, as far as understanding big picture, other side of the ball. That’s something that I can kind of put on him. I always hear about (Hall of Fame running back) Marshall Faulk and how intelligent he was. That should be a goal to match and surpass.”

So far, Kamara has displayed the ability during the season, and willingness to work during the offseason, realistically to aspire to such a status.

“It’s my third year, but it’s been quick,” he said. “I consider myself a younger guy still. But I’ve played around with…anything new, anything that one of my teammates has to lend me, like some advice or somebody with some experience in a field of nutrition or strength or training, I try to take little (pieces) from everybody. Changing diets and looking for new things to get faster, stronger, get in better shape – I’m looking for all of it.”

“Part of the deal is understanding how your body is throughout the course of the year and taking care of that thing,” Thomas said. “And he did start doing that last year, I think better than his first year.”

It all helps create the total package, one that the Saints constantly are trying to find ways to employ in new ways.

“That’s where the anxiety comes from with me,” Kamara said. “It’s not like a bad anxiety, but it’s a good anxiety. Like, I’m so anxious to see, ‘What else?’ Like, where else could I line up, what else could I do? How else could I be successful? That’s the best part of this for me.

“Like, ‘He was good last year. How are you going to prove that you are what you are. What’s the next step you’re going to take.’ It’s just about taking the next step and getting better.”

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